Sam Jama is a 2017 Fielding alum and earned his PhD in Human Development. He wrote this piece and shared it with the 60,000+ staff of the Ontario, Canada government, where he works for the Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility.
By Alum Sam Jama, PhD
The road to self-improvement through education can be a long and challenging one.
My undergraduate pursuits began soon after I started working in the Ontario Public Service (OPS), with the Family Responsibility Office. I enrolled in Ryerson University’s public administration and governance program and completed my first degree in 2005.
I continued my educational pursuits and, in 2008, enrolled in Royal Roads University’s master of business administration program, completing this degree in 2010.
Sam Jama at Summer Session 2017
I wasn’t done yet! In 2011, I started working on my master of human development, completing it in 2013. That was followed by my biggest challenge – a PhD in human development from Fielding Graduate University, which I completed last summer – 12 years after my first degree! I achieved each of these milestones while working full-time at the OPS.
So it made sense that my PhD dissertation focused on self-improvement through education, and I wanted to share some of the key insights that have helped me achieve my goals.
1. Seek subject-matter areas that you have a true, intrinsic interest in
Because I was working full-time, my free time was focused on my education, which meant late nights and weekends reading and studying. To continuously motivate myself, it was essential to be passionate about the coursework I was pursuing.
2. Treat your classes and study sessions with the same importance as work
You have to set aside the time necessary to invest in your academic success. For example, I would often be waiting for the library to open at 9 a.m. on a weekend. During the week you could even find me waiting for the coffee shop to open at 6 a.m. to get some studying in before work!
3. When you’re overwhelmed with too many tasks, break them up
One of the challenges I found was being faced with work, educational and life demands that all needed my attention and action at the same time. This led to me feeling very overwhelmed at times! One of my strategies was to create a work plan to meet these demands, setting realistic and manageable tasks and timeframes to accomplish these goals.
4. During the toughest times, express gratitude
One of my most effective strategies was to reframe my mind during my toughest times. I took the time to write out my top 15 or 20 gratitude list. I would remind myself of all the things I was grateful for: my OPS job, my family, my friends, my health etc. By reframing my mind, I ultimately was able to feel grateful for the opportunity to go to school, and used this new positive energy to refocus and tackle my challenges.
5. Live small, think big
University courses can be very expensive. To make my goals a reality, frugal living became a necessity. That meant I made sacrifices, like giving up my car, and hardly ever eating out. I can proudly proclaim that a law has unanimously been passed in my home and that is: “Zero-spending weekdays!”
6. Take time for self-care and reflection
It is critically important to have the stamina to work what essentially translates to a 60-hour week – for years. To make this happen, I kept to a strict regime of regular trips to the gym, yoga and some martial arts classes. I also found it was important to find time for self-reflection and downtime. Sometimes I attended meditation sessions, other times I just spent a quiet night alone to unwind.
7. Work, play, connect
I made sure to meet regularly with friends and loved ones over the years, as this was an essential part of creating a sense of balance in my life.
Having completed my final degree, my most profound realization now is how much internal growth I achieved during my educational journey. All of it has truly, positively, transformed who I am.